Summary: 16th in a series from Ephesians. How Jesus tears down walls that separate us from God and from others.
It is human nature to build walls. The Chinese built what is known today as the Great Wall of China over a period of over 2,000 years to try to keep out invaders. Beginning in 1961 the East Germans began construction on the Berlin Wall, which was built to keep people from fleeing from East to West Germany. Our country has a wall on our border with Mexico in several places. Even when we build our houses, we build them with walls and then we build another wall around the house for additional privacy and protection.
While we build walls for all kinds of reasons, one thing that all walls have in common is that they cause separation. Sometimes that separation is good and useful, but other times the separation is actually harmful. And in those cases, in order to overcome that harm, those walls have to be torn down.
On June 12, we will be observing the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s famous speech in front of the Berlin Wall where he uttered these words:
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
A little over two years later, on November 9, 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall began. By October 1990, not only was the demolition of the wall complete, but the two Germanys that had been separated by the wall became one.
As we continue our study of Ephesians, Paul writes about tearing down some walls. Let’s read our passage together:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Ephesians 2:14-18 (NIV)
As we read this passage, it becomes apparent quite quickly that the main theme in these verses is peace. Paul writes that Jesus “is our peace”, He “made peace”, and “He came and preached peace.” Unfortunately, the way most of us view “peace” today is quite different from what the word meant to Paul and his readers. After looking at several dictionaries this week, the most common definition of peace I found was “the absence of war or conflict.”
But the word “peace” in both the Old and New Testaments has a much deeper meaning. The word denotes a sense of well-being or wholeness and often referred to the salvation offered to man by God. The word is used to refer both to the vertical relationship between God and man and the horizontal relationships among men. And as Paul very clearly points out in this passage, there were walls that separated men from God and also walls that separated men from each other. But Jesus is the peace who tears down those walls and makes it possible for us to have real peace in our lives.
Although there is some debate among biblical scholars, I’m convinced that Paul uses the picture of a dividing wall in this passage as a result of his own personal experiences. It is very likely that Paul was writing the letter to the Ephesians from a prison cell in Rome. In Acts 21 we learn that just a short time before that Paul had gone into Jerusalem to deliver the offerings from the Gentile churches to the Jewish Christians there. While in the Temple one day, he was dragged out by an angry mob of Jews who accused him of taking a Gentile into the part of the Temple that was off limits to non-Jews.
The Temple of that day, known as Herod’s Temple, had two courts, one intended for the Israelites only, and the other, a large outer court, called "the court of the Gentiles," intended for the use of people of all nations. The Jewish historian Josephus records that these two courts were separated by a low wall, some 4 1/2 feet high, with thirteen openings. Along the top of this dividing wall, at regular intervals, were placed pillars bearing in Greek an inscription to the effect that no stranger was, on the pain of death, to pass from the court of the Gentiles into that of the Jews. In fact, several of these inscriptions have been discovered in the past 150 years. An entire inscription was unearthed in 1871 and is now in a museum in Istanbul. It bears the following inscription in Greek capital letters:
"No stranger is to enter within the balustrade [dividing wall] and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows."